Courtesy of Kaya Ginsky

I am a desperate culture junkie. I listen to every new album, stay updated on films and TV, visit museums and frequent art fairs. At the University of Michigan, I try to enrich my knowledge of both high culture and popular culture in every way possible. However, I’ve found that some of the most artistically-enriched spaces are not the School of Music, Theatre & Dance or the University of Michigan Museum of Art, but, rather, a residence hall room, a fraternity backyard and the Big House parking lot on an autumnal Saturday morning.

A pre-game ritual is first defined by its music. As early as 6 a.m., fraternity brothers wake up Central Campus with a truly eclectic playlist that sets the tone for the day. Last week, shameless school pride and joy emanated from Alpha Delta Phi (along with much of South Quad), as Hall & Oates boogied to “Rich Girl” and Taylor Swift belted “Love Story.”

As I awoke to the lyrics “Marry me, Juliet,” I ran to my closet. Every game day morning, I rummage through drawers of Michigan clothes, pull out everything maize and blue and set up a messy catwalk in my room to model my outfits and test their durability with dance moves. Standout pieces include a horribly yellow vintage skirt, knee-high socks and anything denim.

Game day is arguably the most avant-garde (or just ugly) day of the week for campus style. Some wear lederhosen, others wear pajamas or Juicy Couture track sets and some sport their favorite jersey. As long as it’s maize and blue, anything goes. Game day fashion is about unabashed personal expression as much as it’s about showing off our school spirit. 

While my friends prepare their outfits and makeup for game day, I become a tyrannical DJ. I spend hours curating my playlist and stay up every Friday night, editing it and compiling my friend group’s favorites. It has to hype us up past the 6 a.m. wake-up. It has to be singable and loud. It has to be perfect. As I shuffle the playlist and hold onto the aux, I become the artistic mastermind and cultural curator behind the game day experience

At the tailgate, the playlist must be objectively perfect (or the hordes of people will leave). Long gone are the days of trying to be trendy, cool or have songs without lyrics. We want “American Boy,” “I Wanna Dance with Somebody,” “Gimme! Gimme! Gimme!,” “Doses and Mimosas” (I could keep going). These songs must be played at full volume and there must be room to dance.

Apart from the cheer and dance teams, no one should look graceful on game day. A tailgate is characterized by pure, ridiculous fun and a complete lack of shame. On game day, I even tolerate the frat boys’ weird little fist bumps and air humps. I am not a dancer, and I usually hide from an audience. But on game day, surrounded by hundreds of strangers, the elevated surface (or UHaul) is my stage. The audience is too busy looking ridiculous to notice me.

As we head toward the Big House for the next phase of tailgates, we pass the marching band proudly blaring down the street. With every beat, our energy and anticipation grow.

Ironically, the Big House parking lot is the most peaceful space in Ann Arbor on game day. The parent tailgates are warm, cozy and comforting. The culinary creations are far from gourmet, but all you need is a cold plain bagel and burning hot apple cider to perfect the pre-game ritual. 

At the parent tailgate, a friend (or a friend of a friend, of a friend, of a friend) welcomes you into their family in whatever state you are in, whatever ridiculous outfit you are wearing and whatever level of dishevelment you bear from dancing since 6 a.m. They reminisce on their tailgating days and pour a little extra in their cider to “feel young again.”

The fiercely “Go Blue” families usher in the next phase of the day — one not defined by ridiculous shows of personal expression, but by a powerful collective cultural experience. The University’s least (conventionally) artistic students, lifted in confidence and spirit by our shameless, freeing and oddly artful game-day rituals are finally ready for the Big House. We are ready to raise our horrible voices to “Mr. Brightside.” The pre-game ritual is only the beginning.

Daily Arts Writer Kaya Ginsky can be reached at kginsky@umich.edu.